‘Guilty of Unchastity’?: Nursing Notes, January 1926

This month’s post comes from the January issue of the 1926 volume of ‘Nursing Notes and Midwives’ Chronicle’.

By the beginning of 1926, the Midwives’ Institute found itself firmly established in the business of campaigning for the regulation and monitoring of the midwifery profession, and the New Year was to be no different, with the introduction of new developments relating to the training of midwives. A longer period of training was to be introduced in April 1926 with an amendment to the Midwives’ Act, extending the period from six to twelve months for untrained nurses, together with the introduction of schools for approved midwifery teachers. The first of a series of voluntary examinations for teachers organised by the Midwives’ Institute was to be held in 1926.

At the same time, the Central Midwives Board continued to fulfil its role of disciplining those midwives who failed to meet the required standards, and this volume of the journal has details of those midwives called before the CMB, chaired by Sir Francis Champneys. Although the Midwives’ Institute congratulated itself on a good record of only 24 midwives appearing before the Board in 1925, resulting in half of them being removed from the Midwives’ Roll, a warning note is given of the case of four midwives ‘convicted of entering false records of pulse and temperature’ described as ‘being one of the worst offences of which a midwife can be guilty, showing her to be untruthful, untrustworthy and thoughtless of the safety of her patients.’ And an even more solemn case is recorded which seems very harsh looked at in the context of today, with 31 year old Ellen Jones of Caernarvonshire struck off the roll for being ‘guilty of unchastity, which led to the birth of an illegitimate child.’

While the Midwives’ Institute looked forward to developments for the midwifery profession, it did not forget to look back and remember those who had forged the foundations on which the institute was founded. A tribute to Jane Wilson, who died in 1925 and was President of the Midwives’ Institute between 1894 and 1911 makes interesting reading. Jane Wilson was one of the founders of the Institute in 1881, and served on the Central Midwives Board between 1902 and 1909. An illuminating memory of Miss Wilson is painted in this issue of the journal by Rosalind Paget, who wrote about her memories of the early days of the midwives’ campaign:

‘I first met Miss Jane Wilson in the early eighties; my matron…took me to a meeting held by Miss Hubbard and Mrs Henry Smith when they were endeavouring to form an Association of Midwives. It was then called The Matron’s Aid Society, for the word midwife could never be spoken or even printed in polite society. From the time that I got my Midwifery Certificate, we felt that this was the question that needed workers, and from that time Mrs Henry Smith – our first President – and Miss Wilson and myself worked together I used to feel that Mrs Henry Smith was the inspiration, Miss Wilson was the brains, and I the locomotive of the trio.’

Copyright of the Royal College of Midwives
Rosalind Paget

Such testimonials as this are a fascinating insight into the personal qualities of the women who are so important to midwifery history, and this journal is undoubtedly an excellent, and often overlooked, resource for such testimonials.
Other interesting articles in this issue cover midwifery overseas, with notes on the establishment of a midwifery service in the USA state of Kentucky led by British trained midwives, and discussion of the causes of puerperal fever by a midwife in Rhodesia who trained in England and worked 17 years in China and Africa. She supports the view that sepsis is seldom found in native Africa where intervention during pregnancy is seldom performed:

‘And this raises the question ‘Why does puerperal fever occur at all?’ when hands, instruments, patients’ genital exteriors have been thoroughly disinfected, and others, which are left to Nature, although surroundings and conditions are filthy and unfavourable, recover. Is it not introduced from outside by too much interference, too many examinations, instead of leaving things to Nature?’

Such discussions and debates are an integral part of the business of the Midwives’ Institute and its successor, the Royal College of Midwives, and it is interesting to see how such issues are discussed and developed through the pages of the journal.

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